Sexism in Translation

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As a gamer who also happens to be a woman, I pay attention to other women gamers.  Even if you’re not a self-identified “gamer,” you probably heard at least a little bit about kerfuffles like “GamerGate” and the sustained harassment critics like Anita Sarkeesian have received in response to the grave sin of talking about games while possessing a vagina.

Sexism is nothing new in gaming, but I guess I thought with Millennials growing up that it would start to wane at least a little.  Half of the world’s population is women and nearly half of the gaming market is also women.  But you wouldn’t know it by signing on to XBOX Live or even just by looking at the kinds of games that are produced.  Anita does an amazing job talking about the tropes that plague women in her video series, which has garnered her endless rape and death threats, so I’m not going to cover that again.

What I want to talk about is the kind of harassment women are subjected to when they choose to play multi-player games online, like Call of Duty or World of Warcraft.  “Not in the Kitchen Anymore” is a website that documents the harassment Jenny receives for daring to play on XBOX Live while also being a woman.  It’s a small sampling of the kind of crap women get for merely existing in what are considered male-dominated spaces, but it’s shocking nonetheless.  Comments such as these are commonplace:

Shut up, slut.

How sweaty is your vagina?

Yeah, you fuckin’ bitch ass cunt. Suck a dick. Suck a dick bitch.

Can I have sex with you? ‘Cause you got a hot voice.

Show me your butthole, bitch

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  “It’s just trash talk!”  Yeah, except it’s not.  Listen, I get that trash talking is a thing, particularly in games where you’re blowing each other to bits for funsies.  I don’t play Call of Duty, but I do love me some Unreal Tournament and the built-in trash-talk in that game is half the fun. I’m not trying to censor “trash talk.”  I am, however, making a distinction between what is simple “trash talk” and what is gender-based harassment.

Comments insulting your mother, insulting your general playing ability or intelligence, etc. are trash talk.  Comments that are made in direct response to the fact that you are a woman are not trash talk.  Propositioning a woman, asking her to show you her tits, calling her a “cum dumpster,” threatening to rape her, etc. are NOT trash talk.  That’s gender-based harassment.  It’s not intended to be banter between competitors, it’s meant to threaten and degrade someone deemed “other” (in this case, women) and has the ultimate goal of ejecting the person from the space, rather than enhancing the gaming experience.  They are not the same.

After pouring over the archives on Jenny’s site, I couldn’t help noticing certain themes.  Or namely, one theme: “All you’re good for is sex.”  This is what we tell women and girls every day of their lives.  From beauty pageants to advertising, catcalling to rape threats, we constantly remind women that they are no more or less than their capacity to sexual gratify men.  It’s a pervasive and damaging message.  And online harassment is no different.  No matter what the insult, ultimately the underlying message is the same: “You exist to serve me sexually.”

As such, here is a list of comments frequently made to women in multi-player games and their translations.

Sexism in Translation 

Comment: “You’re fat”
Translation: “I only find skinny women attractive, so I’m asserting that you must be fat and therefore worthless and your opinion is worthless.”

Comment: “I bet you’re a lesbian”
Translation: “A lesbian cannot offer anything sexually to a man, so I’m calling you a lesbian as a way of telling you that you’re worthless and your opinion is worthless.”

Comment: “You’re a dirty cunt”
Translation: “I’m reducing you to your genitalia and if you’re a dirty vagina, that’s not sexually appealing to me as a man and therefore you are worthless and your opinion is worthless.”

Comment: “Suck my dick!”
Translation: “Prove your worth by sexually gratifying me.”

Comment: “Whore”
Translation: “I bet you’ve had sex with more than one person, and that is a privilege that belongs to men.  Women exist only to gratify me sexually, and since you’ve been ‘used’ more than I consider acceptable, you are worthless and your opinion is worthless.”

Comment: “Dumb bitch”
Translation: “I don’t like women talking in what I consider to be a male-only space, so I’m going to insult your intelligence and use the least creative gender-focused insult I can think of, namely ‘bitch’, in hopes of shutting you up.” 

Comment: “Faggot”
Translation: “I’m an ignorant bigot who thinks all gay men are effeminate and I equate femininity with weakness.”  and/or “I’m a man who’s uncomfortable with my sexuality and I deflect this discomfort by insulting the sexuality of those around me.”

Comment: “Are you hot?”
Translation: “As a woman, you only have value to me if you’re sexually desirable to men.”

Comment: Referring to women as “Females”
Translation: “I think women are literally a different species from men so I refer to them as ‘females’ rather than women.”

Comment: “Get back in the kitchen”/”Make me a sammich”
Translation: “I haven’t updated my sexist rhetoric since the 1950s.”

Comment: “I’m going to rape you.”
Translation: “As a man, I assume I’m physically more powerful than you and I want to ‘put you in your place’ using sexualized violence.” 

Comment: “I’m going to kill you.”
Translation: “As a man, I assume I’m physically more powerful than you and I want to ‘put you in your place’ by ending your life.” 

Comment: “All you’re good for is your vagina.”
Translation: “All you’re good for is your vagina.” 

That last one really lays it all out for you, clear as day.  And I wish I were making them up as an example, but I’m not.  That is verbatim something that was said to Jenny while playing XBOX Live.

As you can tell, all these comments are about sex and/or female anatomy, with the exception of the straight up death threats.  Even so, there’s a gendered component because of the assumption that, as a man, you are physically stronger than any woman.  Don’t tell me this is trash talk, because it’s not.  It’s harassment targeted against women specifically and, again, the goal is not to simply banter with your competitors and/or teammates, it’s to make the environment hostile to women in hopes of driving them out of the space.

And of course, it’s all a trap.  While most of the comments focus on telling the woman she is not what a man wants (i.e. “you’re fat,” “you’re butch,” “you’re a lesbian,” “you’re not a virgin,” etc.) even in the cases where the woman IS desirable (“You sound hot,” “show me your tits,” “I want to stick it in your butt”) this does NOT elevate the woman above the role of “sex object.”  In other words, there’s no winning.  Either you’re worthless because you are not a viable sex object, or you ARE a viable sex object, but that’s literally all you are.  You can’t be smart, you can’t be skilled, and you certainly can’t be a good gamer.  You can be a vagina that a man wants to fuck, or you can be one he wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.

Uh, yeah, I see how feminism is done and… all… Ugh.  Sexism is, unfortunately, alive and well.  And though in the grand scheme of things men harassing women in online games isn’t the most pressing human rights issue we need to tackle, it is unfortunately a symptom of a very sexist society that is why we need to talk about it.

That’s the thing about micro-aggressions: Individually, they seem somewhat harmless, but all together they add up to environment that is not only hostile towards women, but outright damaging to them.  This environment leads to self-objectification, eating disorders, rampant violence against women, rape as an ever present threat, and an average of three women PER DAY dying at the hands of someone they love and trust… So, yeah, in that light, I’d say this stuff matters.

So what’s a girl to do? Or a guy, for that matter, who knows this is bad behavior and should not be tolerated? Speak up! They will try to shut you up, but speak up anyway.  Talk about the harassment, expose it to light, make it clear that it will not be tolerated and it will not work.  I truly believe that the troglodytes who harass women and othered peoples like this are in the minority, but all you need for the trolls to triumph is for everyone who disagrees with them to remain silent.  Don’t get them the satisfaction.

I’m a “Small Fat” and Why that Matters

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I’m fat.  I’ve been fat all my life.  I say this not as a degrading remark, but as a descriptive statement.  Being fat is a trait no different than having brown eyes or being tall.  Or, more accurately, it shouldn’t be any different.

If you’re moving through the world in a body right now and you’re a woman and/or you’re not naturally lithe, you are all too aware of how having fat on your body earmarks you for bullying.  You’ve probably been given “friendly” dieting advice from complete strangers, been criticized for eating in public or for wearing unflattering clothing, been told no one will ever love you…

It’s a cruel, cruel, thin-centric world out there.  Make no mistake, thin people get shamed and criticized and feel insecure about their bodies too, but if you’re thin you’re still considered a person.  If you’re fat, you’re sub-human, animalistic, unworthy, unlovable.  (You’re also average, but I guess that’s besides the point.)

Fighting fat stigma is one of the many causes close to my heart.  I personally practice Health and Every Size (HAES), which is the radical idea that you can start practicing healthy behaviors no matter what size and shape your body is (as opposed to the idea that if you’re fat you need to exercise, for penance usually, but you’re also not supposed to be seen exercising in public unless you enjoy being oinked at or having eggs thrown at you).
Having been in the “fat-o-sphere” for a while (a corner of the internet where fat people can discuss fat problems without being trolled), I’ve come to realize that I am in fact a “small fat,” and yes, it does matter.So, where is the line between fat and thin anyway?  Hard to say, it really depends on what store you’re shopping in and who you’re asking.  The fashion industry insists “fat” starts at size 6.  Your average department store usually carries “straight sizes” up to a size 12 or 14, and considers anything larger than that to be plus size.  Likewise, plus size clothing stores usually start at size 14 and go up to at least size 28.  So, for the purposes of this post, we’re going to consider American dress size 14 and up to be “plus” sized.

Depending on the brand of clothing, I wear anywhere from a dress size 16 up to a 22.  Yes, brands vary THAT much.  And, for what it’s worth, it’s rarely my jiggily stomach that prevents me from fitting into clothes, it’s my very broad back and shoulders, which I’ve learned while trying to buy women’s clothes is apparently very “unladylike.”  How dare my body not be shaped like the designer’s image of what a body ought to be shaped like! It’s a little maddening, actually, and one of an array of reasons why I often shop in the Men’s departments (you need to only know your measurements instead of dealing with inconsistent vanity sizes and bizarrely tailored garments).  All that said, I’m still considered to be on the “small” side of “plus” size.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  How could that possibly matter?? Well, to be honest, I don’t know why body size is even remotely related to self-worth in society’s eyes, but since it does, it does matter.  And it matters not because I consider myself separate from folks larger than me, but because while I’m still stigmatized for my body size, I am treated with the slightest bit more dignity than my larger-than-me friends.

It means that, once in a while, I can get away with shopping at a “straight size” store instead of only being able to shop at plus-sized shops.  It means that sometimes I’m assumed to a be “good fattie”– someone who sincerely repents for the size of their body and is doing everything they can to lose weight.  It means that well-meaning friends say very offensive things like, “Well at least you’re not THAT fat” while passing judgement on folks fatter than I.

It must seem strange that there’s a delineation between “BBW” (a term adopted by many fatties meaning “big, beautiful woman”) and “SSBBW” (a “super-sized” BBW) and you would be correct.  It is strange.  But it’s no stranger than determining a person’s worth, intelligence, work ethic, beauty, health and self-discipline based on an arbitrary sizing system.  And yes, I included “health” in that list because you CANNOT tell a damn thing about a person’s health by looking at them.

One thing fat people are common accused of, particularly if we are not openly remorseful about our body size, is “promoting obesity.”  How dare you not hate yourself 24 hours a day! (Personally, I try to limit my self-hatred to 12 hours a day.) Let’s be clear (and I’m going to take a page from Ragen’s book here): Health and size are NOT the same thing and neither one is a barometer of a person’s worth.  The choice to prioritize health is just that– a choice.  And if you’re thin, we accept this is a choice.  You want to eat McDonald’s all day everyday?  That’s fine as long as you’re thing.  But I promise you, there’s nothing healthy about that, no matter how skinny you are.

These messages, that health and size are the same, does a disservice to people of all sizes.  For the fat, it leads to deplorable healthcare where we’re prescribed weight loss for literally every ailment, even and especially ones that would have other treatment options if only we were thin.  (Yes, doctors can be sizeist bigots, despite the Hippocratic oath.  For example, in 2003, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania surveyed more than 600 primary care doctors and found that more than half viewed obese patients as awkward, unattractive and noncompliant.  No, not even your healthcare is safe from bias.) For the thin, they are given the false impression that as long as they stay thin, they are healthy, no matter what their behaviors are.

But studies show that when it comes to health, behaviors are far better predictors than body size.  (This study shows how, when healthy behaviors are practiced, there’s very little difference in metabolic health between people of ALL sizes.)  A mere 30 minutes of exercise a day has been shown to be the best thing you can do for you health, again, regardless of your body size.

Still don’t believe that fat people are stigmatized?  Read “This is Thin Privilege” for about 5 minutes and you’ll be convinced.

I could go on, and on, and ON with stories of fat discrimination, debunking “everybody knows” myths like that BMI is an accurate measure of health or that obesity all by itself is disease, but I’d like to turn my attention to some positive truths.

TRUE: Body size is not a measure of worth, loveability, intelligence, health, beauty, or self-discipline.

TRUE: Body sizes and shapes naturally vary in humans just as much as our skin tones, eye color, height, or any other genetic factor.

TRUE: Body size is not something entirely within our control.  This is something body size has in common with health– both are complex and multi-faceted and, at best, only partially within our control.  Chain smokers have lived to be 101, and 25-year-old triathletes have dropped dead sudden of heart attacks.  There’s so much we can’t control, and the truth is we as a species do NOT know how to make fat people thin.  There is literally not a single study that follows dieters for at least 5 years where said dieters have been able to keep off the weight.  Ironically, if you’re trying to gain weight, dieting is your best bet.  Dieting has been proven to lead to long term weight gain, usually more than you lost in the initial phases of the diet(s). Even people who’ve had their stomaches stapled ultimately gain the weight back.  We don’t know how to make fat people into thin people, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

TRUE: You don’t owe anyone anything.  Concern trolls will insist you owe it to them, to yourself, to your friends and family, to do everything you can to lose weight and be healthier.  Besides falsely conflating health and weight, this is just bullocks.  You don’t owe anyone anything.  Health is personal choice, and body size isn’t a choice at all.  We can manipulate a few pounds here and there within the confines of a balanced diet, but our bodies pretty much know what weight they prefer.

TRUE: There’s no shame in embracing your body exactly how it is right now.  Society will try and shame you, every damn day, but this too, is bullocks.  Our bodies do so many amazing things for us, often without even needing to ask it to do them.  It keeps our hearts beating, our lungs breathing, our eyes blinking, and all that without any deliberate thought on our part.  I’m fortunate that my body can also do things like climb stairs, jump across puddles, lift boxes, and dance to that sick beat.

TRUE: YOU can help end fat stigma.  It might not seem like much, but when your friends make a joke at a fat person’s expense, speak up.  When someone posts something ignorant on their Facebook page, speak up.  When you hear people putting themselves down, calling themselves fat, going on and on about how they need to diet– speak up!  It’s not always easy, but this simple act of speaking up and out against fat stigma is how we, one by one, put an end to this ridiculous prejudice.

TRUE: You have a community.  Whether you’re fat yourself or simple a fat ally, you have a community.  Blogs like Ragen’s Dances With Fat or Jeanette’s The Fat Chick constantly have great ideas for activism and ways to connect with this larger community of body-positive people.

There are many things we still don’t understand about these amazing bodies we walk the Earth in, but we do know for certain that shame is detrimental to both physical and mental health, and frankly, I’ve never heard of someone successfully shaming themselves healthy.  The best thing you can do for your body is give it some well-deserved love.  Your body works for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week– consider telling it “Thank You” once in a while.  It might feel weird at first, but you’ll be amazed how quickly that awkwardness turns into pride and motivation to embrace the body you have.

So thanks, bodies, for all that you do.